By Rebecca Adams de Gárate & Rachel Ryan & Kristiina Hiukka
When the words ‘influential leaders’ are spoken, who comes to mind?
Google this phrase and your search will provide websites listing the top 10 most influential leaders of the 20th century, of which, all 10 are male (www.the-top-tens.com). Or USA Today’s list of the top 25 individuals in the business world, only 3 of which are female. Even a site listing the top 10 influential world leaders you have never heard of, only three are female (www.akorra.com). Influential women leaders are missing from our daily lives.
Yet, there are some amazing women out there.
Business woman like Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, political leaders like two-term Finnish president Tarja Halonen, novelists like Maya Angelou, women fighting for what they believe in like Director of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan, and artists like African Grammy Award winner Angelique Kidjo who uses her popularity and success for the greater good. And then there is Oprah. But truth be told, more women do step up to be every day female leaders and role models. They are the trail blazers and pathfinders of everyday decision making. Even in our individualistic world we recognize the need for community. More than ever, women join organizations to support and mentor each other. More than ever, there are ways for older generations of women use their knowledge to mentor and guide younger ones, nurturing audacious new generation of women leaders and innovators. For example, the Seattle-based Go Girl Academy led by Margo Myers.
Yet, instead of leading, mature women often tell us that they fade to the background, their knowledge, underutilized. One of our interviewees sighed: “Why does it feel like after turning fifty women fade into the asphalt, although we should be at our prime?” A traditional proverb goes “if the young knew and the old could, there is nothing that couldn’t be done”. Perhaps we should be heeding these historical words of wisdom. Our paradigm needs to shift so that we view the experienced members of our society as an asset.
This is where the Women of Fifty project comes in.
We are seeking to combine traditional mentorship and coaching with a virtual forum and live conferences. Places where young tutor old and the old guide the young. Where everyone has access to a strong social network of diverse individuals, filling the gaps of individual mentoring.
The Women of Fifty project was founded on the belief that ordinary women have extraordinary experiences worth sharing. Experiences that can help direct and shape the lives of women around the world. Stories that touch us all. We are here to build a community. Kristiina’s son Markus claimed that people on average can only have 50 real friends in their lifetime. Who are the fifty most influential women in your life?
To foster the dissemination of this knowledge we are building a platform for collecting stories from inspirational women worldwide, weaving them together to create a library of knowledge. The virtual social network has already begun on Facebook, and the conference series will launch with the Women in Innovation – Women of the Next Fifty conference on September 8, 2012. These forums will allow women across generations to connect with one another, join as mentee pairs, and share their insights in open forums; kick starting the needed paradigm shift and allowing women’s’ knowledge to be utilized for generations to come.
Women from around the world are already stepping forth to share kernels of wisdom. Suzana F. a business owner from Brazil offers, “Listen to your heart, follow your own feelings because you are responsible for what you do… If you want something, fight for it, don’t lose time, fight for it ”. They find pride in sharing their stories with other women, helping inspire the development of new ideas and expansion of existing projects. Ayse K., a study abroad advisor from Turkey, is such a woman, and suggests, “Don’t restrict or inhibit yourself”. They want women to realize they have no limits. Lori R., a small business coach from the USA said, “[You] can do anything [you] want. The sky is the limit. Don’t accept mediocrity”.
Women of Fifty is here to not only heed, but also spread the wisdom of these women of fifty plus years. We celebrate and honor women all of ages, their learning at any stage. The important thing is that we communicate and connect. Nobody deserves to fade into the asphalt. You do have something to share with others, just because of who you are. How old do you feel? You are only as old as you feel. Rekha R. from India said that she stopped feeling older in her twenties and has never reached her thirties yet. And it shows! Her youthful energy is contagious! Sometimes it is great to have a choice about how old or young we feel. Kristiina says she loves to step into her “sagehood” and feel the power of her wisdom that comes with experience.
Every age is important – and fifty is a fabulous time to celebrate the past and look towards the future of opportunities. Now is your time. Young, middle-aged, or old, step up, share your story, participate in the collective narrative of women leaders around the world and help us create a better future for us all, men and women alike.
- “Live your life, no regrets, and do things [you] would like to do. Don’t postpone anything” (Banu A., Turkey) –
- “Keep yourself the way you want to be, where you want to be, be true to yourself, just because someone else is doing it doesn’t make it good” (Helen W., England) -
What is the voice of your wisdom?